[h=2]MUSKOGEE - Attending church on Sunday for 10 years was one of the conditions a Muskogee County judge placed on a teenager whose sentence in a manslaughter case was deferred this week for 10 years.[/h] Defense attorney Donn Baker said that although the church requirement is unusual, it is not something he intends to challenge.
"My client goes to church every Sunday," Baker said. "That isn't going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him."
The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene.
Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.
Although not legally drunk - he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness - he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.
Alred was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender. He pleaded guilty in August, with no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.
Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman - who determined the conditions to accompany Alred's deferred sentence - could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Left to monitor Alred's church attendance is the District Attorney's Office. District Attorney Larry Moore also was not available to comment Wednesday.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Carnagey said the judge has required church attendance with other defendants in the past.
Randall Coyne, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, said the church-attendance condition probably wouldn't withstand a legal challenge but that someone would have to file such a challenge.
"It raises legal issues because of (the separation of) church and state," he said.
Coyne said defense lawyers in other cases have successfully challenged orders that their clients attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because of AA's spiritual component.
"This young man may feel like this is a just punishment as far as he's concerned," he said.
The problem arises in how to enforce it and what should be done if he were to fail to attend church, Coyne said.
Alred's sentencing Tuesday was emotional.
Carnagey said Alred - with his minister in the courtroom - addressed Dum's family members, who were sitting in the front row of the gallery.
Baker said Alred "started crying, and (Dum's) father got up and went over to him and they hugged, and both of them cried wrenching tears for several minutes."
Carnagey said one of Dum's sisters also told the judge that there was no sense in ruining two lives by sending Alred to prison.
Alred testified that he has been shunned since the crash, Baker said.
"He understands the gravity and the hurt and wishes he could take it back," he said. "This is something he'll have to live with the rest of his life.
"He told (Dum's) family (that) every day and every hour he regretted his decision to drink and drive."
In addition to going to church and the standard rules governing deferred sentences, Norman imposed other conditions for Alred to avoid prison.
The teenager must wear an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption; attend victim-impact panels and speak at events about the consequences of drinking and driving; graduate from high school and welding school; attend counseling; and undergo drug and alcohol assessments.
What do you think? Is mandatory church attendance a good punishment? Getting off easy? A blatant violation of the separation of church and state? Other thoughts?